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The Traveler’s Camera Bag

by Wayne A. English - All rights reserved.

Ah, you are going traveling. And you want to take pictures. Lots of pictures, but what to pack? If you pack everything, you will need a donkey to carry it all. Ah, yes, having been that donkey we can sympathize. Well here is a superb, travel tested, list of materials to take with you. As your needs will change from day to day you do not need to carry everything with you all the time. Equipment you will not need can be left locked in your hard sided suitcase or locked in the hotel safe.

Photo Credit: Elizabeth A. English

Here is our traveling gear: A large Tenba bag, a hooded jacket; a hat; an umbrella; a collapsing tripod, this one opens to about four feet; 10 or 15 feet of white nylon rope; a Nikon D-50 SLR with an extra 1 gigabyte memory card; international battery charger for camera; a video out cord to view pictures on a TV; insect repellent; sun screen; a laptop PC to store pictures; a phone cord for the PC; and a Swiss Army Knife. Not shown: international electrical plugs and the laptop’s power supply.

If you will need to use your luggage as security you may want to pack a short length of chain and a padlock and chain the suitcase to your bed. To have equipment stolen while traveling can be disastrous especially if the nearest camera shop is hours, or days, away. As to the hotel safe, when in New Delhi we placed a lot of equipment and film in the hotel safe. Smart move right? When I went to get something I told the clerk that I wanted box so and so. And she gave it to me. No checking who I was, no checking my room, no checking anything. She just handed me the box. This is not security. Verify what is required for entry to your safe box. Assume nothing. You are not at home. Be especially careful when traveling in the third world and developing countries.

So just what are you going to take? You may be surprised that our list includes things that have nothing to do with photography.

  • A hat with a floppy brim that provides serious sun protection for head, neck, and ears.
  • Plenty of film, or digital memory, as they are very expensive when on the road.
  • A fool proof way to determine which film has been exposed and which has not been exposed. (See below.)
  • A pair of what we Americans call ‘flip-flops.’ Those shoes that slip readily on and off and have a rubber thong which fits between your toes. They are perfect those late night trips to the toilet when it is down the hall or outside. Why flip-flops and not shoes? Bugs, scorpions and other such nasty things can’t hide inside flip-flops. This eliminates the possibility of a panic trip to the nearest medical care. Always look inside shoes and socks before putting them on. Always.
  • A padded camera bag made of heavy duty nylon, with welded ‘D’ rings for the shoulder strap, and a shoulder strap sewn to the sides and bottom. Such as the Tenba bag pictured. Further, this bag has a solid padded bottom so it will not collapse like a sack. We once dropped it from a closet shelf, a distance of seven feet, (over 2 meters) to the floor. It contained two Nikon F3's, one with a motor drive, five lenses and a small flash. Nothing was damaged. These bags are expensive, but worth every penny. Especially when you are carrying a couple of thousand Euros in photo gear. Our rule of thumb is to spend about ten percent the cost of equipment on the bag, or case, to carry it in.
  • A collapsible small tripod that readily extends to be of real use. Note: bring along a cable release, sure. But, if you do not have one use the cameras delayed timer should a long lens cause the tripod to swing and sway. When on the road you learn to solve problems within the confines of what your gear will do. Solve problems with the most powerful computer in the universe. Your mind.
  • An electronic flash.
  • Internationally rated chargers and power supply(s) for your camera(s), flash, computer or hard drive. Also be sure to pack an internationally rated plug set.
  • A short length, 10 or 15 feet (3-4 meters) of nylon rope or heavy cord for hanging up laundry, tying things, and many other uses. Laundry? Oh yeah. Shakespeare said it best, "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy." Trust us, there are places out there where you do laundry and whatever else you need to do.
  • Nylon or silk pants (this time I mean underwear – pants in the British sense) as they can be washed and dry by morning. Cotton pants can take days to dry.
  • A small flash light. We always used the aluminum lights that twist to turn on and off. In a pinch hold it in your fist if you need to defend yourself. It makes a devastating weapon and will easily get through the tightest security. After all, it is only a flash light.
  • A heavy shirt for chilly mornings or the lining of a jacket. See photo. Pack this no matter were you travel.
  • A rain coat with a hood. When combined with your heavy shirt they make a warm dry combination that you will be glad you packed. Nylon shell coats, with fleece liners, are an excellent choice.
  • Sun block. Sunburn can be a severe threat. When in the tropics the sun will be intense. Sunburn can be devastating and actually produce painful blisters. Never underestimate sun burn. Nor wind burn for that matter.
  • A second camera body or a backup camera. This is especially critical if traveling to provide photos to a client or on a once-in-a-lifetime trip. Always carry two or three cameras. When we were in India we had two Nikon SLR’s and a Nikonos as back up. We shot black and white film in the Nikonos and slides in the SLR’s.
  • Nice to have, but not critical, is a hand held light meter. Especially if you will be working without a flash in dim conditions as they can easily meter an eight or ten hour exposure. Be sure your camera has a Bulb or Time Exposure setting.
  • A belt tool or Swiss Army knife. Never travel with any knife or belt tool on your person. Pack this in your luggage.

For Film Users:

  • A film retriever to recover unexposed film that has been rewound by mistake.
  • Remove film from its cardboard box and throw away the box. Place the fresh, unexposed film in its own pocket in your bag.
  • When you remove the film from the plastic film can, push the top of the film can into the can itself. Now you can readily see that the film can is empty.
  • When the roll of film is fully exposed rewind it completely. Do not leave the film tag outside. Now take your Swiss Army Knife or belt tool and cut the top of the film can, place the film in the can and put on the marked top. Why slice the top of the can? A cut can’t be removed like ink can.
  • Place the exposed film in its own pocket of your camera bag. At the end of the day place all exposed film in your suit case and add more fresh film for tomorrow. Also consider taping all exposed film into a large block with masking tape. That way you will not loose individual rolls. Leave all tops exposed as security will want you to open some when you request that the film not be x-rayed.

For Digital Media:

  • If you have access to a high speed Internet connection email yourself your days shooting every night. If not, you may want to transfer the material to a laptop or burn the shots to a DVD or CD-ROM.
  • Guard your memory. Remember, digital images should be backed up daily. The loss of a memory card can be catastrophic.

And finally, check with Custom’s and find out what paperwork you will need prove that you did not buy your equipment while out of the country. Without this proof you may be charged duty. Keep this paperwork with your passport. And always keep your passport with you.

Well there you have it. A well stocked and functional camera bag and a great system for traveling. This system won’t let you down.

About the Author

Wayne is a writer, photographer, instructor, and web master. See his web site at http://www.wayneaenglish.com for his photography book and publications.


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